Indie Game of the Week 114: Ittle Dew 2

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When I played the first Ittle Dew some... five years ago (?!) I thought at the time that its developers Ludosity cottoned onto a smart idea by taking the venerable The Legend of Zelda series and distilling what they liked most about those games - the dungeon puzzles, usually of the pushing blocks around and hitting switches variety - and built a whole game around that aspect rather than trying to take on Nintendo's million dollar baby pound-for-pound. That playthrough would later inspire this blog about how Zelda-like Indie games, by their smaller nature, took fragments of that franchise and built them up rather than attempting a lesser, compact clone of the whole package. I think the first Ittle Dew irked me towards the end with either timed puzzles or some other sort of restrictive difficulty bump, but on the whole I appreciated its moxie as a scrappy Zelda clone that knows full well it's a Zelda clone and established its meta sense of humor around that, as well as the cute, hand-animated (or the illusion thereof) graphics and solid enough puzzles.

Ittle Dew 2, I feel, in reaching for the stars with a bigger and better sequel sort of missed them and careened off a comet or two. It's certainly not a bad game; the puzzles have been fine-tuned and made easier, if anything, and a truly packed overworld gives you plenty of little diversions between the game's respectable twelve dungeons (four of which are "secret" and considerably tougher). A common reward from these random little caves across the world, which can be as easy to find as breaking a wall or suspicious bush or listening to some NPC hints for the more elaborate solutions, are extra maps that point the way to caves you may have missed. In addition, every single one of these caves can be opened - and the puzzle inside completed - with the titular heroine's trusty starting gear of a solid stick. You could, theoretically, come back with more equipment found in dungeons and make them far easier on yourself, but you should never feel like you can't solve one of these puzzles then and there. Likewise, in true Zelda style, all dungeon puzzles can be solved with whatever you brought with you plus the dungeon's unique treasure, though the game is extremely OK with you sequencing break by frequently building in shortcuts to take for the more mercurial player. Speaking of which, the dungeon equipment is more or less the same as the last game - a flaming sword to make puzzles involving lighting braziers easier, a magic wand for ranged attacks and pushing blocks remotely, a chain that extends the length of your melee swing, etc. - as well as a few passive trinkets to mitigate the game's combat difficulty.

Man, it would've been great if this game had D-pad support. There are just times when that little plus-shaped wonder comes in super useful.
Man, it would've been great if this game had D-pad support. There are just times when that little plus-shaped wonder comes in super useful.

The combat difficulty is, incidentally, the armored fireball-spewing robotic rocket elephant in the room. This game is extremely tough, especially if you're the type of player who expected it to be a series of contemplative melon-scratchers like the first Ittle Dew. To expand their horizons, the developers made a much more concentrated effort to develop enemies with elaborate attack patterns to evade and weaknesses to exploit. These come to the fore with the game's ridiculous boss fights, but can be seen throughout the game just by wandering around the overworld. Even random respawning enemies on the overworld hit hard and prove challenging to pin down, especially when they gang up on you, and it's likely to take anyone expecting the pefunctory stick-swinging Zelda combat of the first game by surprise. Items and upgrades mitigate this, of course, as does a generous respawn system that saves all the progress you made since your last checkpoint and provides plenty of hearts (which still drop to the ground with an ominous wet squelch, which was one of my favorite touches) and an evasive dodge roll with invincibility frames which new players ought to master as early as possible. Boss fights still seem to have way more health than they possibly should though, and in every chip-damage-only encounter I wondered if I was supposed to have found more upgrades first (even by the final few fights, when I had max everything, that sentiment felt all the more applicable somehow).

In many respects, the added focus on combat feels like the series upgrading from borrowing from one Zelda aspect and focusing on making it great, to doing the same with two simultaneously. On the other hand, the difficulty spike that Ittle Dew 2 offers is no joke, and fans of the first might feel alienated by how much harder they have to work to reach the end, especially as none of that extra challenge comes from the puzzles which, if anything, have been neutered between the easier set-ups and a lockpick system that allows players to straight up skip dungeon keys if they prove too tricky to reach. It's like if your local Nerd Emporium turned into a Jock Center overnight, switching the entire focus of what they deliver to almost the exact opposite, which is an analogy that is perfect so don't even @ me.

The goal of the game? You wash up on an island and need to build a raft, one hard-earned piece of wood at a time. Ittle also refuses to believe that rafts grow on trees.
The goal of the game? You wash up on an island and need to build a raft, one hard-earned piece of wood at a time. Ittle also refuses to believe that rafts grow on trees.

That said, and though I'm still smarting from a few of those secret bosses, I still liked Ittle Dew 2 a whole lot. I think it still has a few fundamental problems, but its silly goofs, catchy soundtrack, and disarmingly adorable aesthetic makes it a hard game to really hate, even when it seems to wilfully invite scorn with its ruthlessness. I think if you go into this game with a big ol' caveat emptor for its difficulty - I'd say it's easily on par with Titan Souls or Hyper Light Drifter, both games far better known for their deliberate high challenge level - you'll find a rewarding Zelda-style experience waiting for you. Just really gotta earn it, my friends.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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